Dan Glickman, the secretary of agriculture during the major crop insurance overhaul in 2000, says crop insurance should be the preferred method of risk management rather than a permanent disaster program.

As Congress prepares to reauthorize the farm bill, some have suggested a permanent disaster program should be on the agenda to respond to future floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and other disasters that now require ad hoc spending measures to clear Capitol Hill. Those in favor of the idea say it would speed relief to producers in need of assistance and eliminate the requirement for congressional action every time a storm hits farm country harder than usual.

But speaking on this week’s Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, Glickman – who headed USDA for much of the Clinton administration – says existing risk management tools should be the preferred course of action rather than a new program.

“I've always been against permanent disaster programs, but then we have a disaster, so we create a new disaster program to deal with that particular disaster,” he said. “Risk management and crop insurance need to be the way to go.”

President Bill Clinton signed the Agricultural Risk Protection Act on June 22, 2000, which the Congressional Research Service said grew the federal crop insurance program “in order to attract more farmers into the program and lessen the need for ad hoc disaster assistance.”

While he believes the current risk management framework is preferable to a permanent disaster program, Glickman did acknowledge some room for improvement in the existing programmatic structure.

For instance, he said crop insurance programs are “not as good as they should be for specialty crop producers,” especially fruit and vegetable producers.

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“There's great opportunities to grow specialty crops in the Heartland,” he said, specifically citing acreage currently allocated to corn, soybean and wheat production. “But the crop insurance program has not been terribly suitable to those producers, so they haven't diversified the crops as much as they should.”

Glickman also cautioned against stiffening work requirements as part of a debt ceiling deal. Given the lack of hearings or legislative discussion on the subject, he said, a debt ceiling bill is an “inappropriate place” to handle the policy.

“Can you imagine if people on the Democratic side wanted to change the computation of the price coverage of crop insurance, for example, in the debt ceiling bill because they felt it was too expensive? Can you imagine the outrage that would take place?” Glickman mused. “Well, that's kind of what the progressives are saying in this piece of legislation.”

This week’s Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, which also features farm bill commentary from SNAC International President and CEO Christine Cochran and Adam Warthesen with Organic Valley, can be viewed on Agri-Pulse.com.

For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com.